Lycos Introduces Drag-and-Drop “Web 2.0 Publishing for the Masses”

Back in May we wrote about the re-launch of Lycos Cinema, which Waltham, MA-based Lycos had tricked out with a new chat interface that lets up to 10 friends in different locations watch and comment on the same movie simultaneously. It turns out that was just the first step in a multi-part strategy to reinvent all of the venerable, South Korean-owned company’s products, which focus these days mainly on search (HotBot and WhoWhere), social gaming and media (Gamesville, Lycos Cinema), and personal online publishing (Tripod, Angelfire).

The latest part of the strategy is the official opening this week of Webon, a Web publishing tool that makes it extremely easy for people without Internet expertise to build engaging websites.. Using a simple, drag-and-drop, what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface that spares people from having to learn HTML and other Web arcana, Webon visitors can build sites that include blogs, photo albums, comments, RSS feeds, and Facebook-style news feeds. The sites can include all sorts of social networking features designed by contributors to Google’s OpenSocial platform.

But users don’t have to rely completely on Google—they can also import social gadgets that developers have written for other sites participating in the OpenSocial initiative, such as MySpace, Hi5, Ning, Plaxo, and imeem. (A “gadget” or “widget,” in Web lingo, is a small, modular software application that can function in many different contexts, such as Web pages or computer desktops; a typical OpenSocial gadget might be, say, a birthday gadget that lists the upcoming birthdays of one’s social-networking pals.) The basic Webon service is free, and users don’t even have to register to build a site. A premium version, including a custom domain name and unlimited storage, goes for $8.95 per month.

Screen shot from Webon Editing InterfaceLycos chief technology officer Don Kosak says Webon, which has been in closed beta testing for several months, represents an attempt to sweep away all the technical and procedural hurdles that keep average Web users from building sophisticated websites. “We dug deep into what the barriers are,” says Kosak. “Going through a lengthy signup process was one. Payment up front is another. Learning HTML, having to buy or download software, being able to put pictures or text on a Web page but then having this inert thing that’s difficult to update, those are also turn-offs. We wanted to address all of those issues with Webon.”

The story of Webon—and of the new social features behind Lycos Cinema and Gamesville, as it turns out—actually began four years ago with a failed beta product called Lycos Circles. Part of the company’s avowed strategy at the time of transforming itself from a Yahoo-style search portal into a social network, Circles was an advertising-driven blogging platform that gave users the ability to control how much information was visible to others in their networks.

“The product itself didn’t really take off,” says Kosak. “However, we built a lot of great features into it. And when we built socialization into the Gamesville product, we imported all of that.”

The Lycos team then built the same social engine into the Cinema service. And each time it incorporated the engine into a new product, it layered on more functions, including, now, the Open Social application programming interface (API). With this new interface, developers outside Lycos can write gadgets that access and reuse … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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